Red Bay: Icebergs, Mosquitoes, and Fog
It was a drizzly and foggy morning when I arrived in Red Bay, a teeny tiny town in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador off the Atlantic Coast.
Usually rain is unwelcome when you’re on vacation, but I was thankful for the damp, cool weather as this was hopefully going to keep the infamous Labrador mosquitoes and black flies at bay (sadly it didn’t, but more on that later).
As our ship rolled through the thick fog closer to the town we were having breakfast in the dining room. I was staring out the window absent-mindedly chewing on my oatmeal when all of a sudden out of the fog I could make out a gigantic massive white shape.
I couldn’t believe that icebergs drift this far south into the Labrador Sea. It was an eerie sight, since the cruise ship I arrived on was surrounded by fog and land wasn’t visible.
Red Bay doesn’t really have a true port, so if you’re arriving via cruise ship like I did, you will have to tender back and forth in some of the life boats. It only takes a few minutes to reach the shore from where the ship anchors.
By the time I reached the shore some of the fog had lifted around Red Bay. The first thing I noticed was how green everything was. Unlike British Columbia, which is having one of the driest summers on record, the east coast of Canada is only getting rain.
The plants here are mostly shrubs, mosses, and lichens. The landscape is barren and tundra-like, but still beautiful and serene.
Red Bay began as a whaling station used by the Basques in the 16th century.
Whalers from the Basque region of Spain and France hunted whales and processed whale oil to sell in the European markets. Red Bay was one of the largest and busiest whaling stations during this time.
Today, the town is home to just over 200 people.
Wooden homes are scattered throughout the bay on the hillsides. Red Bay has a community center (head here for free wi-fi), a church, and a school that employs three teachers to teach 13 students between the ages 6-17.
After finishing school, most young people need to leave Red Bay because there are little to no job prospects here.
For grocery shopping or to see a movie residents need to drive at least eight hours! The women in Red Bay apparently do a lot of online shopping.
During wintertime Red Bay receives an enormous dumping of snow. Sometimes whole houses are snowed in and people are stuck indoors for a while.
In the summer, this area of Labrador is home to swarms of nasty black flies and mosquitos.
No wonder teenagers can’t wait to get out of here.
Red Bay has quite a few hiking trails that are worthwhile. The nearby Saddle Island Trail (1.7km) provides fantastic views onto Red Bay and the rugged landscape.
To reach Saddle Island purchase a $2 roundtrip ticket at the Visitor Information Center.
A private boat operated by a friendly born and bred Red Bay fisherman runs back and forth between the island and town constantly when cruise ships are visiting. When no cruise passengers are in town the boat runs every hour on the hour.
After arriving on Saddle Island I walked the main trail leading to the top of a small hill, and by the time I reached the top the humid air had caused me to start sweating.
My body heat instantly attracted swarms of black flies and mosquitoes and trust me when I say that they are vicious. I was even bitten near my belly button even though I was wearing a shirt, fleece, and rain jacket!
Biologists have noted that areas with an intense population of these bugs signify an unpolluted environment. Too bad you can’t enjoy nature here without getting eaten alive!
Walking around Saddle Island with me was my Mum who suggested that instead of following the marked trail back down the way we came, we should walk down the hill on the side facing the open ocean. We were hopeful that the slight breeze from the ocean would deter the annoying insects.
On a side note, we later talked to locals about the awful bugs and they noted that there were hardly any buzzing around, even though we felt like we were being attacked by thousands.
I can’t even imagine what it must be like when it’s warmer outside!
We slowly made our way downhill towards a large colony of seagulls. They weren’t too pleased at how close we had come and took off into the sky. A couple of the birds swooped at us but we were too busy to swat away the bugs to really notice. It wasn’t until we got back on the marked trail that I noticed that a seagull pooped on me – more than once! I guess that means I’m going to have really good luck for a while!
During the 1980s and 1990s archaeologists discovered the remains of many structures where the Basques lived and worked on the island.
If you walk the whole 1.7km loop trail you will pass whale oil rendering ovens, cooperages, a Basque galleon shipwreck, and a whaler’s cemetery.
Be sure to pick up a map and info sheet that describes the points of interest on the trail. You can grab the info sheet at the Visitor Information Center when you pay for the boat ride.
Near the end of our walk along the trail, the dense fog rolled back into Red Bay. This instantly brought down the temperature and seemed to deter the black flies and mosquitoes – finally!
By then it was time for us to take the short boat ride back to town and tender to the cruise ship.
Although I left with a few itchy bites, Red Bay was exactly what I needed to start my trip this summer.
This tiny town is the complete opposite from what I am used to - quiet, isolated, cold, and calming.